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​Sigfox raises $115M to expand Internet of Things network globally

Traditional carriers hope to profit from the push to connect all manner of electronic devices to the Net, but a French startup just took a little wind from their sails.

Sigfox CEO Ludovic le Moan speaking at the LeWeb 2012 conference.
Sigfox CEO Ludovic le Moan speaking at the LeWeb 2012 conference. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Sigfox has raised $115 million to extend its low-speed but long-range network to the Americas, Asia and parts of Europe where it's not yet available.

The French company believes its network will help link thermometers, power monitors, parking meters, vending machines, smoke detectors, location sensors and other devices expected to be a foundation of what's known as the Internet of Things. Sigfox's network technology is inexpensive, consumes little power and works over long distances, but it's only able to transmit very short messages.

That's a recipe for success, the company's investors believe. Contributing to the fourth-round funding are carriers Telefonica, SK Telecom and NTT Docomo Ventures, the company announced Wednesday. Industrial companies joining the investment round include GDF Suez, an energy company; Air Liquide, a supplier of gases, health care services, and other technology; and Eutelsat, a satellite communications firm that believes it can help link into Sigfox's network.

The investment could help change the balance of power in the wireless networking world, boosting a new player at the expense of mobile network operators that dominate the industry today through smartphone subscription plans.

Sigfox doesn't directly challenge traditional mobile network operators. Their networks offer much higher data-transfer speeds so we can watch YouTube videos while walking down the street. But there is some tension: the Internet of Things is a major growth opportunity for traditional wireless players, and they have mature network businesses that already are expanding to new markets like connected cars. Although some Internet of Things applications will need the higher communication speeds that traditional network operators offer, Sigfox still could siphon away customers who otherwise would spend money with traditional carriers.

The participation of Telefonica, NTT Docomo and SK Telecom indicates some at least would rather join Sigfox than beat it. Sigfox partners with other companies to build out networks in different countries.

So far the company has network coverage in France, Spain and the Netherlands, and it's working on spreading to the United States. A partnership with a company called Arqiva is bringing the Sigfox network technology to the UK, too. Sigfox uses unlicensed radio spectrum for its service, so it doesn't require particular permission from different countries' governments.

Earlier investors, who earlier had invested about $34 million into Sigfox, also invested again. That group includes Intel, Elaia Partners, iXO PE, Partech Ventures, Idinvest and Bpifrance.

Updated at 1:55 p.m. PT to clarify that Arqiva is a Sigfox partner in the UK.